The IndyCar series features top-notch drivers in some of the world's fastest race cars, which will hit speeds of about 180 mph in Sunday's season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
But racing these relatively light machines requires heavy travel — this year, 16 races in a 28-week span in 11 states from coast to coast plus Ontario — and because many drivers in the series have young families in tow, something more spacious is required on the road.
Often that's a motor home, where these very fit athletes leave sleek race cars behind to pile into lumbering behemoths usually more associated with middle-aged guys with dad bods.
"With all the back-to-back races and the time I was going to spend in Indy and in the Midwest, it just made sense," St. Petersburg resident Sebastien Bourdais said of traveling with wife Claire, 9-year-old daughter Emma and 6-year-old son Alex in their motor home. "It's also a great way to discover the States with the kids when they're off school. They come to the Indianapolis 500, we go to Detroit, stop at Cedar Point (in Ohio) on the way. Around Pocono (in Pennsylvania) time two years ago we went to New York City. … We went to see The Lion King."
Life on the road can require a lot of patience, even if, thanks to GPS, stereotypical arguments over directions are becoming passe.
"It's gotten a little harder as the kids have gotten older," said owner/driver Ed Carpenter, who lives in Indianapolis and has children ages 8, 6 and 3 (he no longer owns a motor home, instead renting one when needed). "The 8- and 6-year-olds are into their own things. When they were younger, they pretty much came to every race. Now they still come to most — (but) my daughter and wife are missing St. Pete because of a gymnastics meet."
Fort Lauderdale resident Ryan Hunter-Reay and wife Beccy don't have the problem of sons Ryden, 3, and Rocsen, 1, being distracted by outside interests yet, though he compares having two that young to "a Rubik's Cube.
"With my oldest one it's just all about race cars," Hunter-Reay said. "We've been talking about the St. Pete race for two weeks and he says he wants to see his IndyCar. It's his, it's not mine. As soon as he hears race cars, he doesn't need toys or anything else."
During the season an Andretti Autosport employee ferries the family in their home on wheels, but in the offseason Hunter-Reay will do his own driving in his Newell motor home, especially to the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring.
Bourdais, on the other hand, does all his own driving between races, unless there's a long enough break in the schedule for the family to fly back to St. Petersburg.
"It's like a moving house, really, for us," Bourdais said. "We just use it as kind of the anchor point. … We do stuff that's adequate for a 6- and a 9-year-old. If they have a good time, you have a good time."
That was a common theme — spending quality time with their spouse and children is well worth the effort.
"I think when you have an awful day at the track, you go back to the bus and you have your family there, it kind of takes your mind off of your work problems," said Miami resident Tony Kanaan, who with wife Lauren has son Deco, 14 months (Kanaan's older son lives in Brazil). "If I have a bad day, I get in the bus and see my kid. And if I have a good day, I get to get on the bus and celebrate it."
Having a wife/mom who can coordinate activities is vital too, Carpenter said.
"Heather does a pretty good job of finding children's museums, science museums, things like that," he said. "In St. Pete, for instance, in the past they've gone to the beaches, visited the Clearwater (Marine) Aquarium. A thing like that where they've seen the movie (Dolphin Tale), it's cool for them."
Because, as any parent of a teen can probably attest, even something as exciting as auto racing can't keep a kid entertained forever.
"I've heard advice from other dads that you're only so cool for so long to them before they end up finding other things," Hunter-Reay said.